'The experience and dedication of our boxers make me confident in their abilities to excel at the Asian Games.'
India's boxers have consistently impressed on the world stage in junior competitions, reaffirming the depth of talent in the country's boxing scene.
Amanpreet Kaur, an accomplished coach, has played a significant role in nurturing these talents. Her coaching has produced remarkable results, with boxers like Olympian Pooja Rani, World champion Arundhati Choudhary, Ankit Narwal and Commonwealth medallist Pinki Rani bringing laurels to the nation.
What sets Kaur apart is her exceptional ability to balance her responsibilities as a coach along with the joys and challenges of motherhood.
With Kaur's guidance and the impressive skills displayed by the Indian women's boxing team, there is a strong optimism for success at the Asian Games, which gets underway in Hangzhou, China.
"Creating a supportive environment is crucial for the development and success of female boxers. I make an effort to visit the girls during their menstrual cycles as this can be a challenging time for them. We try to provide them with extra support and make them feel pampered. I don't claim to be their mother, but I definitely try to make them smile," Coach Amanpreet tells Laxmi Negi/Rediff.com.
How long have you been coaching? Why did you choose to specialise in women's boxing?
It has been a long journey. I have completed 20 years as a coach and I am only 40!
The decision to become a coach was influenced by my own experiences as a boxer and advice of my coaches. When I was boxing, I realised the importance of having a coach who understands and supports you.
Many of our coaches were men, and while they were encouraging, it was sometimes difficult for us as women to open up and communicate freely with them.
Considering this, it was a natural choice for me to specialise in coaching women's boxing; I wanted to create an environment where female boxers could feel comfortable and supported.
What challenges did you face in women's boxing?
There were several challenges I faced in women's boxing. One notable challenge was the societal perception of boxing as a violent sport, which led to difficulties in finding housing as a woman boxing coach. Landlords were hesitant to rent to me because of my job profile.
I faced so many problems that the agent asked me to lie about my job. But why should I? I am not ashamed to be a boxing coach. Somehow, I managed to get a house on rent after months.
Then no one wants to get their sons married to a boxer. Later, when a boxer starts a family and post-delivery has dreams of pursuing boxing again she has to face taunts about putting on weight and catering to her babies needs, like feeding.
There is a vicious cycle that a woman has to deal with. My son is six years old and I have dealt with all these taunts. I understand these girls as overcoming these challenges requires resilience and determination.
I am glad many women are coming back to boxing after delivering a baby. Mary Kom showed them a way.
Do women need extra motivation?
Motivation is essential for everyone, regardless of gender. However, in our society, women often face additional hurdles and prejudices that can impact their confidence and self-belief.
Female boxers in particular have to deal with criticism and scrutiny regarding their appearance and attire, which can be demoralising.
In our country girls need extra motivation as they not only have to fight in the ring, but also have to deal with people talking about the length of their skirt or the hoo haa about training in a sports bra.
Therefore, it is crucial to provide women with extra motivation and support, not only in terms of their boxing skills but also in boosting their self-esteem and helping them navigate societal pressures.
Creating a strong support system is essential to empower women boxers and encourage them to focus on their sport without being weighed down by external factors.
How would you approach the physical or mental training of women boxers?
In terms of physical and mental training, my approach is multi-faceted. As a coach, I draw from my own experiences as a boxer and try to address the needs of each individual athlete. In the past, coaches used to fulfil multiple roles, including acting as physios and even mental coaches.
I have seen boxers who suffer from anxiety that their body colour changes. When we are in a corner we see a boxer's body language and we know whether they have won or lost the bout in their mind.
Earlier there were some boxers who would be great in sparring and the moment they would compete in competitions the results would be far from desirable. It could be due to travel, change in diet or weather.
However, nowadays, we have dedicated sports psychologists who specialise in supporting athletes' physical and mental well-being. They focus on areas such as anxiety management, visualisation techniques, and preparing athletes for various scenarios.
Is there an increase in India's presence in international tournaments?
Yes, there has been a noticeable increase in India's presence in international boxing tournaments. Previously, it was primarily the senior boxers who had the opportunity to compete and train abroad. However, now we are seeing the participation of junior and youth-level boxers in international competitions as well.
In the senior women's World Championships India achieved remarkable success, winning four gold medals while countries like Uzbekistan couldn't secure any.
This progress demonstrates how far Indian women's boxing has come.
In the past we were often overlooked, but now we are taken seriously as a formidable boxing nation.
Government policies and initiatives have played a significant role in supporting this growth and pushing the sport in the right direction.
How do you create a supportive environment?
Creating a supportive environment is crucial for the development and success of female boxers.
When boxers are living in hostels away from their families for extended periods, it is essential to provide them with a sense of comfort and care.
Personally, I make an effort to visit the girls during their menstrual cycles as this can be a challenging time for them. We try to provide them with extra support and make them feel pampered.
I don't claim to be their mother, but I definitely try to make them smile.
When the girls were boxing for the first time in the World Youth Championship, my team tried to make personalised cards for the girls to encourage them. These little bit of extra things do make them feel special and I am sure encouraged.
But, above all, nothing can beat a supportive family.
I have known so many national level boxers who had to give up boxing just because their fathers didn't support them.
Had Nikhat Zareen's father not stood with her saying that you just box, I will take care of the rest, be it keeping their neighbours or elders of their community quiet, she wouldn't have been a World Champion today.
How many medals do you predict for India in the Asian Games?
While I believe all our female boxers have trained well and are in top form, it is difficult to predict the exact number of medals they will win. However, I would like to see all of them return with medals. (Laughs.)
If I had to estimate, I would say that India has a strong team, and I expect them to bring home 3-4 gold medals easily. The experience and dedication of our boxers make me confident in their abilities to excel at the Asian Games.
What does the future hold for women's boxing?
Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed numerous positive changes in women's boxing. Society has become more accepting of girls participating in sports, and the government has implemented supportive policies. These two factors have worked hand in hand to uplift women's boxing in India.
Looking ahead, I see a bright future for the sport. We need to continue fostering the belief that we can become a boxing powerhouse, empowering more women to pursue boxing and achieving even greater success at the national and international levels.